Email vs push notifications vs in-app messaging: which has the highest engagement?

Email vs push notifications vs in-app messaging: which has the highest engagement?

Email marketing is a controversial subject here at Reckless

Some say it’s spam and has no place in a modern marketing strategy. Some say it’s incredibly powerful when you understand the relevance to your audience. And some say they LITERALLY could not operate their lives without it…

Now, as a marketer, the toughest aspect of your job is deciding which channels are most effective at engaging your audience. It can be difficult finding the right mix of channels to focus your efforts, and the traditional channels like email or social are likely to get the main focus.

However, in the last few years, a range of other channels are opening up, offering marketers new and innovative ways to engage their audience.

Two of the most popular channels to open up are push notifications and in-app messaging. Built into the apps consumers download onto their smartphones, app messaging techniques provide marketers with the ability to reach their audience at the right time, with the right content, to engage him or her further.

Does app messaging work?
Does it offer a new way to engage consumers?
Or is it a whole load of baloney used to force you into buying an app

Well, that’s the question we set our research team last week. Asking them to analyse engagement rates across email, push notifications and in-app messaging, we wanted hard evidence as to which channel is the most effective at engaging your audience.

Before we start, if you’re new to app messaging, here’s a bit of a primer (if you’re a mobile strategist know-it-all, feel free to skip this section and head straight to the research).

What is a push notification?

Similar to a text message, a push notification is a message that appears on a smartphone. Push notifications are sent from an app, and can only be received by people who have the app installed. Users must have the push notification enabled to receive notifications.

They look like this:

What is an in-app message?

An in-app message is a type of pop up that’s only displayed while the user is actively using your app. They’re used to drive interaction and discovery within an app.

They look like this:

What is email marketing?

Do we really need to do this…?


So, you have a list of emails, GDPR compliant, of course. Certainly not purchased lists – that’s CHEATING. Then, after a little segmentation. A sprinkling of database cleaning. And a whole load of strategy, you send an email.

Now, email marketing is usually defined as “using emails to send ads, request business or solicit sales”. But we think that’s a little basic.

So, we generally classify any email that attempts to build loyalty, trust or brand awareness as a piece of email marketing communication.


They look like this:

The Research Methodology

Right then. How did our analysts put this study together?

After a little negotiation, I managed to get the team to send over a methodology.

Unfortunately… it consists of just six bullet points. So here it is, in all its mundane glory:

  • The data was taken from 22 different brands across a variety of industries.
  • All clients were notified prior to analysis and have agreed to the data being published.
  • For competitive protection, all data has been anonymised.
  • Open rate is calculated as the total number of “opened” emails or app messages, expressed as a percentage of the total number of emails or app messages sent.
  • Click-through rate is the percentage of users who click on a specific link to the number of total users who view an email or app message.
  • Industries we analysed included:
    Food & Beverages
    Health & Beauty
    Home Decor

So, what did we find?

Open Rate

Email Marketing

With the typical consumer receiving 90 emails a day, I’m sure you won’t be gobsmacked to learn that less than 2% of the emails we analysed were opened. The industry with the highest open rate was Health & Beauty at 4.5%, while the lowest scoring industry was Motor with a 0.78% open rate.

Push Notification

OK. Email performs quite poorly. How about push notifications? Well, our study showed that push notifications had a sizeable 20% open rate across all industries. The Travel industry performed surprisingly well with the highest open rate at 29%, while Fitness performed the worst at 12%.

In-App Messaging

Now, if you own, or you’re building an app, this is where you might start to get a little giddy. Our study found that in-app messaging had a startling 75% open rate. That’s over 45 times higher than email and nearly three times higher than push notifications. With all industries scoring highly, the outright winners in this section were Fashion and Travel scoring over 85%. At the other end of the table, Health and Beauty scored the lowest with a respectable 64% open rate.

Click-Through Rate

Email Marketing

After a poor performance in our open rate analysis, could email win back at least a little honour in the click-through stakes? Well, as we are sure you’re not surprised to learn, our analysts found that email had the worst click-through rate across all channels. Scoring just over 1% across all the brands we analysed, the worst performing industry was Motor at 0.2%, while the best was the Travel industry scoring a 2% click-through rate.

Push Notification

In better news (if you’re building an app) push notifications scored a respectable click-through rate of 28% across all industries. Interestingly, the best-performing industry was Travel scoring a 44% click-through rate, which is nearly four times the click-through rate of the Fitness industry at 12%.

In-App Messaging

After a strong performance in the open rate category, in-app messaging didn’t quite score as highly in our click-through research. Across all brands, the average click-through rate was a reasonable 7%. The best-performing industry was, again, Travel with a 12% click-through rate. The worst performing industry was Fitness with a 5% click-through rate.

Apps are winning…

OK, so we’re not saying that you need to build an app, but if you’re looking for channels that allow you to engage your customers more effectively, then HEY, there’s an app for that.

But seriously, our research showed that app messaging techniques are, by far, the best way to engage your audience.

And why wouldn’t they be?

Email is practically synonymous with the word spam. And you’ve got far less competition when delivering your message through an app than other channels.

So, if you are interested in really engaging your audience, and you think an app could do the trick, get in touch with us, tell us your challenges and let’s find out if we can help.

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